There has rarely been a book that has enlightened, engaged, and entertained us as comprehensively and consistently as the Ramayana. Known to have over 300 versions across India and Southeast Asia, the story of Lord Rama has been narrated in infinite forms, languages, mediums, and styles.
Once when a traveling French philosopher was asked as to what he felt bound the muti-cultural and stratified India, he said: From the remote jungles to metropolises, from mud huts to swish house of millionaires, from the unlettered to intellectuals, from those engaged in solitary musings to them who reveled at melas, from urban youth to far flung tribals, all related with Ramayana - had either recited it or heard it, read it or watched it enacted; across religions, regions, races, castes and gender all throughout this great mass of land.
Ramayana is indisputably one of those invisible threads that Nehru referred to which hold India together. Gandhiji had said a person didn’t deserve to be called an Indian if he was not familiar with the Ramayana. It was not by freak chance that the Father of the Nation, when riddled with bullets, had journeyed into ceaseless quietude with “Hey Ram” on his lips. His last abiding words were an attestation to the influence that the teachings of Ramayana had on his life.
Truth is eternal, for all times. Falsehood knows death. The most celebrated works of great litterateurs of the ancient world have vanished from earth and are unbeknown to have ever been written by the contemporary man, while holy scriptures such as the Ramayana have stood the test of time. Where there is truth in the fountainhead, there is immortality.
Its perpetuity is the superlative testimony of Ramayana’s greatest; even though it needs no stamp of substantiation. Time and again multitudes, in hours of aloneness, trial, contentment and rejoicing, have turned to the Ramayana. This great story holds lessons for each curvature of our lives. The more ancient it gets, the more relevant it becomes for our zeitgeist.
I too have listened to the recital of Rama Katha, heard its detailed expositions and drawn inspiration from its spellbinding yarn. There are three illustrations, from the Ram Charit Manas of Shri Tulsidas, which I feel have a particular bearing to our office lives and work environment. I cite here what I have heard:
Ayodhya Kaand….. Cantos 2, 3 and first line of Canto 4
Nrpa Sabha Rahahi Krpa Abhilase, Lokapa Karahi Priti Rukh Rakhe
Tibhuvana Tini Kala Jaga Mahi, Bhuri Bhaga Dasrath Sama Nahi
Mangalamula Rama Suta Jasu, Jo Kachu Kahia Thora Sabu Tasu
Raya Subhaya Mukuru Kara Linha, Badana Biloki Mukutu Sama Kinha
Sravana Samipa Bhae Sita Kesa, Manahau Jarathapanu Asa Updesa
It is stated in the cantos above that Lord Rama’s father King Dasratha, the greatest King of all worlds, is seated in his court. The opulence of his kingdom is unmatched and he is most blessed to have a son in Lord Rama. All other monarchs, assembled in the hall, are desirable of his goodwill and solicit his favour. At this point, Lord Dasaratha picks up a mirror. Looking at his face, he sets his crown straight. The hair, besides his ears, which have turned white seem to be conveying to him a message of old age.
It may seem strange that a King is looking into the mirror not in his bedroom but while holding court. As interpreted by the sages, the cantos show that when a person holds a powerful position – at office, in government etc. - there are hordes who would like to be in his good books. The concerned person cannot therefore hope for a balanced feedback from those gathered around him as they may indulge in sycophancy in order to please him. Under such circumstance, the powerful person must raise the mirror to himself. Dasratha’s realization of his old age and adjusting of his crown mean that those in positions of seniority must introspect, accept unsavoury truths about themselves and then put right their conduct as they deem fit.
Ayodhya Kaand….. Canto 315 and first line of Canto 316
Mukhia Mukhu So Cahiai Khana Pana Kahu Eka
Palai Posai Sakala Aga Tulasi Sahit Bibek
Rajdharam Sarabasu Etnoi, Jim Mana Maha Manorath Goi
Lord Ram tells Bharat, who has been asked to rule Ayodhya during his 14 years of absence, that a chief must be like a mouth, which does the eating and drinking, but imparts nourishment to all parts of the body with discretion. This is the essence of a King’s Duty, which lies hidden in the scriptures just like a desire deep in the heart
As is obvious from the statement, a leader, whether political, or a head of an organization or team, he must be one who works at providing benefits to all who are in some form dependent on him. The mouth, which actually chews the food, keeps nothing for itself but distributes, throughout the body, the nourishment extracted. Similarly, government ministers, as well as people in senior positions in companies, should not keep their interest at forefront but use their judgment to provide means of sustenance to their subordinates without discrimination and according to their needs and performance.
Sundara Kand parts of Canto 24 & 25
Raha Na Nagara Basana Grhta Tela, Barhi Pucha Kina Kapi Khela…
Kautuka Kaha Ae Purabasi, Marahi Charana Karahi Bahu Hasi…
Bajahi Dhol Dehi Sab Tari, Nagara Pheri Puni Pucha Prajari
When Lord Ram’s messenger Hanuman urges Ravana to return Sita back to Lord Ram respectfully, the enraged King of Lanka orders his tail to be set on fire.
In the Canto it is described that the natives of Lanka are pleased to bring harm to Hanuman. They use all their resources like cloth and oil to wrap his tail. Then gleefully, beating drums and clapping their hands, they set his tail aflame.
Jarai Nagara Bha Loga Bihala, Jhapat Lapata Bahu Koti Karala
Ulat Palat Lanka Sab Jari, Kuda Para Puna Simdhu Majhari
As Hanuman enlarged his form, his tail sets on fire the entire Lanka which is reduced to ashes. The people in the city cried out helplessly and in panic while Hanuman extinguished his tail in water and escaped unscathed.
According to sages, the cantos clearly show that harm will come to us if we design to bring harm to others. If one were to extend the inference to the domain of our workplace, indulging in office politics or trying to hurt interests of our colleagues can be interpreted through the inhabitants of Lanka who derived great pleasure in humiliating Hanuman, jeering at him and setting his tail on fire. But their mal intentions backfire and these very people then are at the receiving end of ill fortune as demonstrated through Lanka burning to ashes. People who face misconduct at the hands of others should be stoic, for when the entire drama is played out, those who effected misdeeds would inevitably face consequences of their wrong doings.
The stanzas I have chosen to write about are just a few select examples. Ramayana can be interpreted and applied to real life in a zillion different ways. No particular construal can be concluded to be the definitive one. All the multifold meanings inspire us and prod us to make the right choices. They also provide us with solace when our chips are down. Each of the plural meanings has its relevance and significance. The deeper we dunk into the cosmic ocean of this eternal story, the more jewels will we be able to retrieve.